Tokyo: Soaking in ‘Sunday’ in Imperial Palace East Gardens

Tokyo on a Sunday is a very special treat to the senses. The pulse of the city slows down and an atmosphere of certain tranquility sets in. Areas that have been selfishly conquered by motor vehicles Monday thru Saturday, are instead claimed by outdoorsy Tokyo residents on a Sunday.

Despite the morning promise of rain, our Sunday turned out to be beautiful – sunny, warm (ok, maybe a bit too warm) and not so humid. We were headed to the park around Imperial Palace East Gardens, driven by visions of us on a bench, tired legs stretched out and baby sleeping in the stroller. As perfect as Miss Z is, she’s ‘one of them’ babies that have got the hearing of a rabbit and can sleep longer periods only when wrapped in complete silence. So naturally, we thought, a park could be ‘our place’.

We got off Tokyo Station (JR Yamanote Line) and we found ourselves in surrounded by tall office buildings. There was the occasional passerby walking around, but overall the area was deserted; buildings were empty, lunch places – closed. This was a landscape so familiar, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling I was in the business district of any large US city. On a Sunday of course.

On the contrary, the outskirts of the Imperial Palace Gardens reminded us very much of the fact that we were in Japan. Unlike your typical park, which is primarily made up of a network of alleys overshadowed by imposing trees, this park (or garden) was mostly open and vast.  The trees were segregated by a ‘do not cross’ fence and the remaining area was the walking zone, almost entirely gravelled. Should you feel the need to walk on the beautiful green grass, a vigilant guard will be quick to warn you against it. Or so it happened to an absent-minded Chinese tourist, who was looking for an unusual photo-point of view on the inside of the fence.

We planned to tour the grounds of Imperial Palace East Gardens (皇居東御苑, Kōkyo Higashi Gyoen), but in the end we decided against it, as we desperately needed to sit down and rest our weary feet a bit. We had been walking for the entire morning, and we were still in the middle of what I had planned to see on that day.For a reason, unbeknownst to me, seating was, yet again, in scarce supply. At first we saw ‘benches’ that look like giant roller bearings (second picture/ left/ in the distance). They were ok to lean on, and as comfortable as a real roller bearing may be. I couldn’t believe how few were the actual benches, tucked in the very end of the garden, and needless to say, entirely occupied. With a little persistency on our end, we found one little corner – perfect for an hour of rest and people-watching.

Quite a few people in shorts and sneakers were enjoying a Sunday run. This is a sight most usual in the US city parks which wouldn’t have impressed me at all, but here, I was pleasantly surprised by the sporty inclination that Tokyo’s residents displayed. Certainly, biking was pretty big too, lots of people rode their bikes around the park or in the street near the park, which was closed for traffic on Sunday.

Finally, there were these few that were reading books. And then there were some that were just having fun =)_____________________________________________________________________

We initially wanted to visit Tokyo Imperial Palace but unfortunately it was closed on the very days we were in Tokyo. The Imperial Palace East Gardens were the next best choice as they are part of the inner palace and as such host most of its administrative buildings.

The gardens are open 9am through 4pm/5pm during summer/ all days of the week, except for Mondays, Fridays and holidays. Admission is free and unrestricted unlike it is with the Imperial Palace, where a special application has to be submitted for one to pre-register his visit to the Palace.  

My research showed that one of the most picturesque parts of Imperial Palace East Gardens is the Ninomaru Japanese Garden.


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